55- JESUS A FEMINIST?

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Jesus christ declares hiimself a feminist

The culture in which Jesus lived was very machista

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RACHEL With its microphones in Nazareth, Emisoras Latinas now continues its interviews with Jesus Christ, who has returned to earth to see, as he himself puts it, what we have done in his name and in his absence. Good morning, Jesus Christ.

JESUS Good morning to you, Rachel. Shalom!

RACHEL Your statements in earlier programs, which have been very favorable to the rights of women, have turned out to be quite controversial. To be precise, there’s one group of women that wants to talk with you and ask you some questions.

JESUS But if they’re not here, how will I hear their questions?

RACHEL Wait a minute, let me put these earphones on you. Here we go… Okay, studios, go ahead with that call.

FEMINIST Our collective greets you as a man who has had so much influence on history, and we want first of all to ask you a question that for us is decisive. Do you, Jesus Christ, consider yourself to be a feminist?

JESUS Well, … [off mike] Rachel, please explain to me what they are asking about.

RACHEL She wants to know if …

FEMINIST To express it better what do you think was the most daring and novel thing you did on behalf of the women of your time?

JESUS The most daring and novel thing… I don’t know. Let me think. Maybe it was when that woman who was suffering a flow of blood … They described her as hemorrhaging, because of her infirmity. And to hurt her even more, if you’ll excuse me, they nicknamed her “Peeblood”.

RACHEL Could you say more about this case for our audience?

JESUS Sure, why not? The religious laws of my country declared that all women were impure during their days of menstruation.

FEMINIST Is that so? And was that every month?

JESUS Every month, with each return of the moon, every woman became impure. And that meant that they couldn’t pray in the synagogue, much less enter the temple. No one could touch them, neither their husbands nor anyone else. It was thought that they defiled people, contaminated them…

FEMINIST And how did they know if a woman was having her period?

JESUS It was quite humiliating. The women had to withdraw and undergo the shame of declaring that they were menstruating. They had to recognize themselves as impure. Otherwise, they were submitted to questioning.

FEMINIST If today a man should ask such an impertinent question, he’d get a good whack.

JESUS And a well-deserved one.

RACHEL Let’s continue with the woman in your story.

JESUS I remember her name was Melanie. She had a strange sickness she was always menstruating…

FEMINIST That sickness is called menorrhage.

JESUS I’m sure they could cure it today, but then nobody knew what caused it. And people had many weird ideas about women, especially about their blood, which was associated with sinfulness. In the very fount of life people saw filth.

FEMINIST They say that what is dirty makes everything else dirty.

JESUS They used to read the Law with male eyes, and they wrote the Law with male egotism. They found the source of evil in our mother Eve.

FEMINIST Well, let me tell you, Jesus Christ, that’s still happening today.

JESUS That poor woman Melanie had to live as someone perpetually impure. Worse, that illness left her sterile. She was dead even while alive, because a woman without children was considered worthless. She was the last of the last.

RACHEL And that’s why you cured her….

JESUS No, no, nobody knew how to cure that. I met her one day, and when she approached me, I called her by her name, Melanie. And I touched her and let her touch me. That was something quite prohibited by the Law, something that nobody dared to do.

FEMINIST So you acted like a real feminist…

JESUS Rachel, explain to me that word she’s using…

RACHEL Feminist means someone who sides with women and fights for their rights, for them to be respected … all of that. All that and a lot more.

FEMINIST So, Jesus Christ, were you a feminist?

JESUS Well, yes, I think I was, … and I still am!

FEMINIST And can we call you feminist in our documents?

JESUS Why not? Call me that, a feminist.

RACHEL Here in Nazareth, beside Jesus, a polemical feminist, this is Rachel Perez, reporting for Emisoras Latinas.

MUSIC

ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.

*More information about this polemical topic…*

In a male chauvinist society

Jesus was the child of the extremely macho culture associated with the Jewish religion, one completely marked by patriarchal traditions. Although Jesus by his words and actions broke with the machismo of his religion and his cultural context, Christian tradition has historically not been faithful to the example of Jesus. From the very beginning, and increasingly from the third century on, it has conformed fully to the molds of the dominant patriarchal culture, in which male hierarchy establishes and imposes the moral norms, the laws and the ways of relating to God.

Women: always discriminated against
Israel’s civil and religious laws, as well as its customs, considered women to be inferior to men. The civil laws put women in the same category as slaves and young children: like them, they had to have males as their “owners”. Women’s testimony was not valid in a courtroom since they were considered mendacious. In religious matters they were also on the margins. They could not read the scriptures in the synagogue, nor could they give the blessing at meals. Women’s exclusion from social life was much greater among the elite classes and in the big cities than it was in the rural areas. What scant importance was given to women was due exclusively to their usefulness for domestic chores, and they were appreciated basically for their fecundity. A woman unable to bear children was hardly worth her bread and butter.

No women witnesses, only men
There are many examples of patriarchal and male chauvinist traditions in the books of the Bible; they show up in the language, the customs, the laws and the contents of the theology. A curious example is found in the book of Genesis (24,1-4), when Abraham says to one of his servants: Put your hand beneath my thigh and swear by Yahweh, God of heaven and earth…   That was the way Abraham and all the biblical patriarchs made oaths. However, the word “thigh” is a euphemism: the man making the oath actually placed his hand on the other’s testicles. Grabbing the testicles of the other man was the way the commitment between the two was sealed. During the time of the Roman empire, also, whenever men made a promise or established a contract, they had the custom of raising their right hand to their genitals, the symbol of their virility and manly courage. Those semen-producing organs lent seriousness to the words of the agreement.
This custom, along with many others, reflected the discrimination against women: since they had no testicles, they could not “testify”, nor could they give “testimony” nor be heirs in a “testament”. In Jesus’ Palestine women had no role to play in the tribunals. This aspect of Jewish culture passed over into European languages: all those words (testify, testimony, testament) have the same basic root (testicles) and are excellent “testimony” to the persistence of patriarchal culture. For most of Christian history women’s words were thought to be worthless; the oaths they swore were always dubious.
For centuries in most of the world women had not right to own or inherit property, they could not sign contracts, they could not decide or choose for themselves, nor could they vote. All that has been slowly changing, but not without enormous efforts, struggles, suffering and blood.

Melanie, a super-marginalized woman
Jesus recalls his encounter with a sick woman, whom he calls Melanie. The three synoptic gospels relate the story of a “hemorrhaging woman” (Matthew 9,18-26), who was no doubt suffering from menorrhage, an irregular menstruation characterized by a continual flow of blood. Aside from the discomfort and debility that such a condition would cause her, she was also rendered permanently “impure”, since every woman was considered to be so during the days of her menstruation.
The book of Leviticus (15,19-30) is full of prohibitions concerning menstruating woman; it decrees that such a woman is impure for seven days, all that she touches is impure, anyone who touches her is impure, etc. For that reason Melanie was an extreme case of marginalization: female, sick, impure, sterile, and alone.

In all the macho, patriarchal cultures of ancient times, not just in Jesus’ culture, there was a strict taboo against interacting with women who were menstruating, and therefore impure and charged with negative forces opposed to God. That is precisely what makes Jesus’ gesture toward Melanie so momentous, since it flew in the face of deep-seated ideas and customs and effectively erased the borders between the pure and the impure.

The impure blood of menstruation
These same religious beliefs and biblical commands have echoed down the centuries, leading people to believe that the blood of menstruation was highly noxious. Due to profound scientific ignorance, husbands were forbidden to have contact with their wives during menstruation because it was thought that any children born of such relations would be infirm, leprous, and even possessed by the devil. It was also believed that contact with menstrual blood would dry up flowers, blacken bronze and impede the growth of fruit. As late as the 13th century Christian theologians were warning people that it was a mortal sin to have relations with a menstruating woman because sickly or possessed children would result from them.
One of the hot themes for theological debate in the Middle Ages was whether a woman during menstruation (also called her “periodic pollution” or her “monthly venting”) could receive communion during mass or not. Even worse, the blood of a woman giving birth was considered to be more noxious that the menstrual blood. The Synod of Treves in the year 1227 established that after childbirth women needed to be “reconciled” with the Church, a disposition which combined the Jewish laws of ritual purification (fulfilled by Mary, the mother of Jesus, as Luke 2,22-23 relates) with Christian theologians’ rejection of the pleasure that is implicit in every sexual relation. In many cases of that epoch the religious hierarchy determined that women who died in childbirth could not be buried in Christian cemeteries because they had not be “reconciled”.

Feminism: an ethic

Feminism is the whole set of cultural and social theories, political practices, and ethical proposals motivated by the repudiation of the inequities and injustices that derive from the patriarchal culture in which humankind has lived for thousands of years and in which all that is male has always been exalted over all that is female.

Feminism holds that sexual differences should not result in gender differences, and it consequently struggles for the rights of women in all spheres, the most delicate and vital of them being sexuality. Feminism generates a different way of seeing the world and dwelling in it, one that is novel and very positive.

Not all women are feminists, nor are all feminists women. Feminism is not just a concern and a question of women and for women. Feminism is a proposal for radical change, so that the whole of society develops in the right direction, so that there is more democracy, so that human rights are truly respected.

Starting in the 19th century, feminism began to gain ground in the consciousness of women all around the world. The 20th century has been called by many “the women’s century” since it saw feminism finding expression in an infinite variety of ways and winning people’s sympathies in all countries and in all fields. It even found resonance in the field of Christian theology, where there now exists an extraordinary wealth of feminist thought.

Feminist theology
Theological feminism also produces a newness of vision, since it points out the contradictions that the patriarchal religious culture deems to be “eternal”. For example, we might ask ourselves, along with the Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara, the following provocative question: Why is the blood of the man Jesus “redeeming”, while the blood of women is considered to be an “impurity”?  Or we might reflect, as did the German feminist theologian Dorotea Sölle some years ago, on the extent to which the culture of obedience and submission, which are taught to women as the greatest virtues, has historically favored the installation of political dictatorships. Sölle links this idea with the way Nazism was made legitimate in Germany.
Feminist theology has labored to deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs and traditions, ridding them of their more blatant patriarchal contents. Feminist theology proposes to transform women, so that they are no longer just “consumers” of teachings they receive from “sacred” men, but become creators of their own theological content, gathered from the richness of their own experience of life. Feminist theology completely rejects the masculine gender which Christianity has traditionally assigned to God, and while it does not explicitly state that Jesus was a feminist, it considers the movement which Jesus helped organize and in which women participated on a par with men, to be an tremendous source of inspiration.

In a male chauvinist society

Jesus was the child of the extremely macho culture associated with the Jewish religion, one completely marked by patriarchal traditions. Although Jesus by his words and actions broke with the machismo of his religion and his cultural context, Christian tradition has historically not been faithful to the example of Jesus. From the very beginning, and increasingly from the third century on, it has conformed fully to the molds of the dominant patriarchal culture, in which male hierarchy establishes and imposes the moral norms, the laws and the ways of relating to God.

Women: always discriminated against

Israel’s civil and religious laws, as well as its customs, considered women to be inferior to men. The civil laws put women in the same category as slaves and young children: like them, they had to have males as their “owners”. Women’s testimony was not valid in a courtroom since they were considered mendacious. In religious matters they were also on the margins. They could not read the scriptures in the synagogue, nor could they give the blessing at meals. Women’s exclusion from social life was much greater among the elite classes and in the big cities than it was in the rural areas. What scant importance was given to women was due exclusively to their usefulness for domestic chores, and they were appreciated basically for their fecundity. A woman unable to bear children was hardly worth her bread and butter.

No women witnesses, only men

There are many examples of patriarchal and male chauvinist traditions in the books of the Bible; they show up in the language, the customs, the laws and the contents of the theology. A curious example is found in the book of Genesis (24,1-4), when Abraham says to one of his servants: Put your hand beneath my thigh and swear by Yahweh, God of heaven and earth… That was the way Abraham and all the biblical patriarchs made oaths. However, the word “thigh” is a euphemism: the man making the oath actually placed his hand on the other’s testicles. Grabbing the testicles of the other man was the way the commitment between the two was sealed. During the time of the Roman empire, also, whenever men made a promise or established a contract, they had the custom of raising their right hand to their genitals, the symbol of their virility and manly courage. Those semen-producing organs lent seriousness to the words of the agreement.

This custom, along with many others, reflected the discrimination against women: since they had no testicles, they could not “testify”, nor could they give “testimony” nor be heirs in a “testament”. In Jesus’ Palestine women had no role to play in the tribunals. This aspect of Jewish culture passed over into European languages: all those words (testify, testimony, testament) have the same basic root (testicles) and are excellent “testimony” to the persistence of patriarchal culture. For most of Christian history women’s words were thought to be worthless; the oaths they swore were always dubious.

For centuries in most of the world women had not right to own or inherit property, they could not sign contracts, they could not decide or choose for themselves, nor could they vote. All that has been slowly changing, but not without enormous efforts, struggles, suffering and blood.

Melanie, a super-marginalized woman

Jesus recalls his encounter with a sick woman, whom he calls Melanie. The three synoptic gospels relate the story of a “hemorrhaging woman” (Matthew 9,18-26), who was no doubt suffering from menorrhage, an irregular menstruation characterized by a continual flow of blood. Aside from the discomfort and debility that such a condition would cause her, she was also rendered permanently “impure”, since every woman was considered to be so during the days of her menstruation.

The book of Leviticus (15,19-30) is full of prohibitions concerning menstruating woman; it decrees that such a woman is impure for seven days, all that she touches is impure, anyone who touches her is impure, etc. For that reason Melanie was an extreme case of marginalization: female, sick, impure, sterile, and alone.

In all the macho, patriarchal cultures of ancient times, not just in Jesus’ culture, there was a strict taboo against interacting with women who were menstruating, and therefore impure and charged with negative forces opposed to God. That is precisely what makes Jesus’ gesture toward Melanie so momentous, since it flew in the face of deep-seated ideas and customs and effectively erased the borders between the pure and the impure.

The impure blood of menstruation

These same religious beliefs and biblical commands have echoed down the centuries, leading people to believe that the blood of menstruation was highly noxious. Due to profound scientific ignorance, husbands were forbidden to have contact with their wives during menstruation because it was thought that any children born of such relations would be infirm, leprous, and even possessed by the devil. It was also believed that contact with menstrual blood would dry up flowers, blacken bronze and impede the growth of fruit. As late as the 13th century Christian theologians were warning people that it was a mortal sin to have relations with a menstruating woman becau

55- JESUS A FEMINIST?

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